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Stucco Raised Planter Project

Photo essay on the building of concrete raised planters with a soft stucco finish for one of our clients.

In this photo you can see the concrete foundation and the blocks we used to build the curved walls. We used masonry block construction instead of concrete forms to save time and money for the client. Here the walls have an initial coat of plain gray stucco as a base coat.

We built the planter to a certain point, then built the patio to nest into the curve of the planter before completing the planter and finishing with the final coats of colored stucco finish. This way, the final stucco coat wouldn’t get damaged in either process. Unlike paint, stucco is hard to patch seamlessly.

Concrete pavers have been re-purposed to serve as a cap for the wall. They provide a brick-like old-world look and the individual pieces add a rhythm as the eye travels along the wall. Every single cap piece needed to be custom cut to fit the curves of the wall.

Here you also see some color sample pieces we made for the client. The black protruding holes will hold removable seat/knee boards that will allow kneeling over the planter while working on the plants or sitting along side to enjoy the garden. The planter wall embraces the circular patio next to it. A dynamic element that makes the overall design cohesive and dynamic.

Here is the final stucco color coat completed. We have a unique finishing technique that allows the stucco to come out very smooth and “soft” looking. It’s visually and texturally soft as you can run your hand across it and not scratch yourself on it.

The client chose a fairly saturated terracotta color that will become more intense when the stucco is wet. Over the years, the stucco will effloresce and change color patterns. This is intentional and gives the wall incredible depth and a timeless beauty. The warm terracotta color makes a fantastic backdrop for plant foliage.

The walls will inevitably be compared to those Mediterranean locales such as in Italy or the south of France. However, all the materials are locally sourced, except for the pigment in this case. It is actually a material befitting the Northwest as our climate is similar to a Mediterranean climate with our dry summers and mild winters.

Another custom touch we included was maple leaf impressions!

We chose the maple leaves from an old tree out front of the property that needed to be cut down. Now the memory of the tree is commemorated in the masonry which adds beauty and can last for many decades.

You can see the two pipes sticking up which are irrigation sprinklers incorporated into the planter. These will be connected to an automatic timer for low-maintenance and ease of operation. Have your cake (or veggies) and eat it too!

Later we will add a wood chip mulch to provide paths and raise the surrounding ground to meet the height of the patio.

Another view of the dynamic curved walls and custom craftsmanship.

Something else you should note about this planter is that it is counter height. We have found this to be an ideal height that is very comfortable to work on. Our client has chronic back problems. The ease of working on this planter allowed her to have a kitchen garden even when her back was flaring up.

So often we see planters that are no more than 18″ high. Rarely will we see one more than that.  Working on such low planters is hard on your back! If you’re going to the trouble to install raised planters, why not go to the correct/best height?

Also, make it out of masonry to last a lifetime. You can build and replace many wood planters in a single life time of a masonry planter and spend many times more money. Masonry is more costly up front but more practical and economical in the long run.

A close up of the maple leaf impression in the colored stucco.

We weren’t completely done with the project before our client already filled the planter with plants! We still needed to add the wood chip mulch to finish the paths around the planter and other elements such as a deck and fence. That didn’t stop our wonderful client. We are always glad and appreciative when our work is so well received.

In the space to the right is room for another two planters to be installed at a later date. We will split up our installations into phases for our clients to meet budget constraints. In the back is a trellis for climbing plants.

Raised planters heat up faster than grade level soil making root growth faster which leads to more vigorous growth. The masonry walls also hold heat well into the cooler evenings. Another advantage is they drain well making ideal conditions for most plants.

The seat boards can be kneeled on to work on the plants or you can have a seat and enjoy the garden. They are also removable for winter storage or to just get them out of the way when working with a wheelbarrow next to the planter.

Update Feb 2010: The lone planter is getting 2 friends in phase 2 of this project currently under way.

This is the full complement of planters per the design. Having all the planters installed completes the space and makes it feel balanced.

The two new planters have been fitted with drip irrigation lines and are ready for planting! The original planter uses sprinkler heads. There are pros and cons for running drip vs sprinklers. We’ll have to make a separate post about that sometime.

  1. I’m using a stucco sprayer from
    Could I get the same results as your premium stucco project?
    waiting on your review.

    July 4, 2010
    • Hi Troy C,
      I’ve never used the mortarsprayer. If if works, it looks like it only helps during the application process which is only one of the steps in stucco process. Still it looks like it could speed that up quite a bit but you would need a review by an actual user. I would be concerned that it would introduce air into the stucco which might cause problems for certain smooth finishes.

      July 4, 2010

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